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To My Parents Who Worry About My Mental Illness

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Hi Mum and Dad,

I can still see your faces when my depression diagnosis was explained to you. I had never seen that amount of hurt on your faces before. I had never seen you seem so lost and confused. That was a few years ago now and with an added burden of anxiety, I know how concerned you are about my mental health. I know, when I visited in 2013, you saw the worst I had ever been. Depression caused me to either be endlessly sleeping or sobbing, and it broke your hearts. I felt mine breaking too as I saw how much my state was affecting you.

I found out later why my behaviors were extra scary to you – mental illness has appeared in our family in the guise of our closest family members. A relative who couldn’t cope after knee surgery so she started hoarding. A family member who took to drugs when he couldn’t find employment. Another who took to drinking after her marriage collapsed.

And I guess this is what my depression and anxiety are to you two. You see your daughter, who by all rights should be considered successful — always in the top percentile at school and university, surrounded by friends while performing in choirs and bands, working in a profitable career for many years now. An overachiever by far. Happily married and living my own life states away from my hometown.

I don’t see myself that way. Well, my depression and anxiety don’t let me picture myself that way. I think of myself as a big failure. I work so hard because nothing is ever good enough. There was always too much paperwork or planning when I was working. High expectations and stress of meeting them left me with many sleepless nights and many missed meals. Managers who told me I was a waste of space, when I was only a graduate and new in my profession. I was so ashamed I just looked for different ways to hide my insecurities; more hours at work than was healthy, performing in local choirs, volunteer hours at local charities, take the husband or friends out to the movies so they couldn’t see me cry in the dark theater. I was keeping up a charade of what I expected a “happy me” to look like.

I know now that, by trying to meet everyone’s expectations, that I was making myself ill. I thought if I could convince them I wasn’t useless, that I was living happily, then maybe I would start believing it too. But that isn’t how my depression and anxiety let me live now. I have to take things a lot slower. I have to change careers to something less stressful. I have to change my lifestyle so I create healthier habits. I’m trying to find what makes life worthwhile again.

I am still so scared sometimes of letting you down. I have terrible nightmares about people finding out about the terrible fraud I am. I am nervous my husband will get fed up as this wasn’t we planned for our marriage. I have pushed so many of my friends away as I didn’t want to be ashamed of having to endlessly cancel catch ups or dinners because of another panic attack or depressed day. I sometimes don’t call for days as I can’t face the fact that I haven’t done anything “worthwhile” in days.

Something my illness has taught me is just how much you two support me. I know how much love I have around me now. I know who my true friends are and how they are helping me fight my battles. I know you are with me, supporting me as well. You show that to me by encouraging me to see a therapist. You shared with me about the times when you were struggling with your own mental health. You reassure me to try again and again when I have had a bad day and can’t leave my apartment. You ring my husband when I can’t answer the phone to check how I am. You send me care packages full of ways to treat myself, or emails listing how to pamper myself at home.

I really want to thank you for all your care. I know the best way to show you my gratitude is to keep caring about my well-being and really make it a priority. It is still a struggle at times, but this is a hard lesson for me to learn. I am breaking bad habits and teaching my mind ways to distance myself from negative influences. I am starting to recognize what creates stress or anxiety triggers and how to avoid them. I’m starting to let friends see how vulnerable I am, which includes you. I appreciate that you are so worried when I do that… but this is me sharing my journey with you. I can tell you worry and are scared that I’ll fall back into my earlier depressive episodes — I am too — but I have a support network that won’t let me fall too far. With your love, as well as the others around me, I know we can beat this together.

I am so glad I have you in my life. I am working on new ways to make you proud, but I know at the end of the day all you want for me is to be proud of myself. Who knew you two would have to keep parenting when I am an adult, eh?

I love you,

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Thinkstock photo via KristinaJovanovic

Originally published: March 21, 2017
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